Waking up with a stiff neck? Tossing and turning, can’t get comfortable in bed?
You’re not on your own! Every week at Canberra Spine Centre we have patients telling us these sorts of things.
Often the pillow is the culprit.
If you don’t get enough good quality sleep, apart from feeling tired, your body will produce a ‘stress response’ (fight/flight) which is great for fighting tigers, but not so good for healing, digesting, regenerating or even thinking.
In this article, we’ll talk about what to look for in a pillow and how to find the pillow that suits you best.
Remember, anything you do to support your spine will impact how well your nervous system works.
Thousands of hours sleeping on the wrong pillow creates stress and strain on the nervous system.
This can not only lead to aches and pains, but also a range of other health problems – muscle and joint problems as well as other nervous system-related issues.
Does it need replacing, and how often?
Just like a favourite teddy bear, parting with your old pillow can be a painful process! Having said that, hanging on to it for too long can also cause you grief.
Lifespan of your pillow
Generally, pillows tend to last around 18 months. Higher quality pillows such as those made of latex, will tend to last longer.
Your pillow will slowly change shape over time, and not provide the right support that it did when you bought it.
Here’s a test for you: fold your pillow over and see if it stays there, without springing back. If it doesn’t, your pillow is probably past it’s use-by date, and it’s time to replace it.
Dead skin, sweat and Creepy-crawlies!
Over time, your pillow will absorb your sweat, oils and dead skin cells. It gets worse! Guess what loves to eat your dead skin? That’s right – dust mites.
Holding onto a pillow for many years will guarantee that a good portion of the weight of your pillow will be skin, oil, sweat, mites and their poo!
Stains and smell from your pillow are a good indication that it needs replacing.
What’s the best type of pillow?
Pillows come in all shapes, sizes and materials. The two most important factors are the same as with footwear: the right size, and decent quality.
Getting the pillow that feels comfortable for you to sleep on is one of the best indicators that it is right for you.
Those filled with synthetic fibre are generally cheaper. While they feel good in the beginning, they will flatten relatively quickly and need replacing sooner.
Down filled pillows are more expensive, but can be very comfortable, and will last longer.
Latex and memory foam pillows are very popular. They tend to be firmer and hold their shape for longer.
The only downside, especially with memory foam, is that they tend to store heat, so can be uncomfortable in hotter weather.
At Canberra Spine Centre, we stock water-filled (Chiro-flow) pillows. These have been popular with many of our patients.
The clever design places more volume to support under the neck and also allows you to change the volume of water to adjust the pillow size.
This last feature helps people avoid buying multiple pillows of the wrong size.
Ultimately, each pillow has its pros and cons. Again, quality (durability) and size are probably the two key factors.
Does my sleeping position matter?
How you sleep definitely influences the type and size of pillow you need. Side sleepers will tend to need a thicker pillow than back sleepers.
If you happen to sleep on your stomach (terrible for your spine!) then a very flat or no pillow is best.
What about my mattress?
When you first put a bed and pillow together, they may be perfect for you, leading to a comfortable and good night’s sleep.
But over time, both your bed and your pillow will change shape and often more pliable.
Also, when you buy a new bed, this may be different from your old one – softer or firmer – in which case you may also need to replace your pillow.
Over time even with the same bed, you’ll need to update your pillow to ensure that your spine is getting the support it needs.
Choosing the right pillow can make a huge difference to your sleep, your spine and your health. Getting it right is worth investing some time and money.
It will save you plenty of both (eg. visits to the chiropractor!) in the long run.
If you have problems with sleep or queries about pillows, please call us on (02) 6257 9400 – we’d love to help!
If you would like some more information about the spine and nervous system and how it relates to your health, please check out the other articles on our Facebook page or go to our website: www.spinecentre.com.au.
Also, make sure you read the other interesting articles we post on sleep this month.